Monday, 5 November 2012

Curried & Baked Butternut Squash & Pancetta Risotto

Last week I bought a lovely butternut squash at the market. What could be more lovely and autumnal. Then I remembered that last autumn I could not get George to eat butternut squash. Along with a few other veggies it had moved unsurreptitiously into the 'that's a bit yucky mummy' camp.  When this happens, I tend to keep offering the foods until eventually they are once again picked up without fuss.

As we know, I am starting to wean Ruby & what better baby led weaning food than a stick of lovely sweet lightly roasted butternut squash.  I noticed last week that carrott, one of the only foods that, since forever, has stayed on the yucky step, was all of a sudden requested on George's plate. Yes, he only had a little and yes I expect it was entirely to do with his little sister's lustful licks and munches but it was major progress.

I'll get to the point. My challenge. Moving delicious in season butternut squash back to the yummy step.

I based my recipe on Jamie Oliver's Roasted Squash, Sage, chestnut and pancetta risotto and made a few changes to better suit my time and George's tastes.  George likes sweet curry type spices but not too much heat - the chilli is out, some cumin is in.  When at all possible I like to have dinner done and dusted, or at least prepped, in the afternoon when George is at pre school so that when he gets back I can concentrate on him and Ruby.  Risotto is at its creamy and plump best when served immediately so some things do have to be sacrificed, but I was pretty pleased with today's concoction, I just added a little more water for the final bake/heat through to stop it drying out too much. I baked the squash smothered in olive oil, ground cumin, coriander and a little mild curry powder this morning, leaving a wedge of squash to be baked alone for Ruby later.  Made the basic risotto in the 45 mins after dropping George at pre school and taking Ruby out to a mums and baby group then baked the whole lot together for 20 minutes at tea time.  I tend to give things like that a little bit of time under the grill just to pander to George's 'crunch' desires.

Wedges smothered in olive oil and about a tbsp of ground cumin & ground coriander and baked for 30 mins

Cover with pancetta slices and a bit of sage and bake for another 15 mins

Pull skin off squash and briefly mash and tear up pancetta and combine

Make basic white risotto (soften 1 onion, 2 sticks of celery, 2 crushed garlic bulbs for 15 mins with a knob of butter and olive oil in a large frying pan, add 400g arborio rice and coat in softened veggies, add a large glass of dry white wine and evaporate alcohol then add a ladle full at a time of 2 pints of veg stock until rice is plump and creamy). I then combined risotto and squash/pancetta mix, added 1 tsp of mild curry powder and some parmesan and left until tea time. This was then baked for 20 mins and grilled for 5 mins. I also added some parmesan at this point.

The Delicious result!

Simple roasted wedges for Rubes

Clean plate from George - Result!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Autumn Cooking

I am finally getting my cooking groove back! After barely being able to sniff the oven during much of my pregnancy to barely being able to put down my newborn snuggle bum, my fingers and senses have finally been itching to get back in the kitchen. 

I love love love this time of year for food and for cooking. Nothing quite beats the lingering smell of a home cooked stew that's been in the oven all afternoon ... *deep breath in*, mmmmaaaahhhhhhh. It's all just so indoor-sey and lovely and cosy and mnnnn. *takes a slurp of red wine*.

Last weekend I wanted to cook something seasonal and special that I knew George and hubby would love. I went for Gordon Ramsey's twice cooked pressed pork belly with caremalised apple wedges, gravy mash & brocolli. It was a winner.  I love my food but have always struggled eating anything from the bone and also the texture of anything too fatty in my mouth. George could not be more different! He also particularly loves anything that goes crunch.  I knew succulent pork belly with extra crunchy crackling would be a winner.

My friendly butchers at the local farm shop chopped and scored a lovely piece of belly for me. I took some pics of the early strages but forgot to photograph the finished result which was delightful. Maybe next time. Those caramelised apple wedges were to die for - George, I think, would have swam in the gravy given half the chance.....

Oiled, seasoned and ready for a slow roast

24 hour press

Gravy - strictly no swimming

Cooked twice this brings out the best in belly pork. Initial slow cooking means it melts in the mouth. The second time in the oven gives you the crisp crackling that everyone loves


3 kilogram pork belly
garlic bulbs (halved)
 thyme (a few sprigs)
100 milliliters white wine
450 milliliters chicken stock
sea salt & black pepper
20 grams unsalted butter
apples (braeburn or similar)
50 grams caster sugar
1 spring onion (trimmed and finely sliced)
tarragon (a few sprigs)


For the pressed belly of pork
1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3.
2. Untie the belly of pork if it is rolled and lay it flat on a chopping board. Score the skin evenly in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife. Turn the belly skin side down and cut a slit through the thick end of the pork to open it out like a butterfly so that the meat is evenly thick throughout. Rub all over with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Tip: A clean and sharp Stanley knife (or craft knife) is the most effective tool for scoring the tough pork skin.
3. Place the garlic, halved side up, on a lightly oiled roasting tray and scatter over the thyme sprigs. Lay the pork belly on top, fat side up. Trickle with a little more olive oil and sprinkle with a little more sea salt. Add a splash of white wine around the pork, cover the meat with a piece of foil and bake for 1/12; hours. Remove the foil, baste the pork with the juices and return to the oven, uncovered, for another 1/2-1 hour until the meat is tender. Continue to baste the pork occasionally with the pan juices.
4. Transfer the pork to a clean chopping board and leave to cool slightly. While still warm, place another tray on top of the pork and weigh down with a few heavy tins to flatten it. Cool completely, then chill for four hours or overnight in the refrigerator to set its shape.
5. Pour off any excess oil from the roasting tray and place over high heat. Deglaze the tray with a generous splash of white wine, scraping the bottom and crushing the heads of garlic with a wooden spoon to release the sediment. Boil the liquid until reduced by half, then add the chicken stock and bring back to the boil until reduced and thickened. Strain the stock through a fine sieve, pressing down on the garlic pulp with the back of a ladle. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
6. Heat the oven to the highest setting, about 250C/Gas 9.
7. Cut the pressed pork into individual portions or squares and pat the skin dry with kitchen paper. Place the pork squares, fat side up, in a roasting tin and drizzle with olive oil and a generous pinch of sea salt. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the skin is golden brown and crisp. Rest the pork for 5 minutes, then serve with the light gravy and accompaniments.

For the caramelised apple wedges
1. Melt the butter in a wide non-stick frying pan. Dredge the apples in the caster sugar and add to the pan when the butter begins to foam. Fry for 3-4 minutes on each side over a medium heat until golden brown and caramelised. Toss in the spring onions and tarragon and serve warm.

Ruby's eating!

Looking back, and without wanting to sound too smug, I took to motherhood pretty easily. I was a very relaxed, confident, calm and happy first time mum.  Until George hit 6 months and I had to start weaning him. 

My twin sister was the cook and I was always very good and unwrapping some chicken kievs from their Tesco's Finest wrapper and placing them in the oven at the correct temperature or even following the odd recipe step by step from a book, which would take forever as I literally would read each line ten times before doing as I was told then would recheck that line another ten times.

I, and I think my at the time childless twin sister, will never forget my first week of weaning George. I was desperately and slightly manicly trying to make him a basic cheese sauce from expressed breast milk.  Somehow I messed it up and I cried. A lot. I thought, how am I ever going to feed my baby proper food?!

I know for many people, children are their inspiration for many things and not least cooking. This was certainly the case for me. 

At just over 5 months Ruby seems a little young for my baby led weaning approach. She may seem young to me but nonetheless she is very keen and over that last couple of nights has delighted in her first tastes of brocolli, sweet potato, carrot, parsnip and potato.  I think I am going to have a very happy eater on my hands and once again I am feeling inspired to get cooking.  Watching a baby delight in her first ever tastes of different foods, particularly when it is entirely baby led and such a voyage of discovery for them is something very special indeed.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Back to now

Wow, it's been a while. I wasn't intending to ressurect a bit of blogging tonight.  In fact, the thought just came to me a short while ago as I was clearing up the carnage of our simple pasta tea tonight.  A mostly eaten bowl of pasta with mess all around in George's place, toys all around Ruby's very space age high chair and a crumpled yoghurt pot from which Ruby was lustfully taking her first licks of food just a couple of hours earlier.  A spiderman costume crumpled in the doorway and a surprisingly large amount of washing up from a very simple pasta tea.

I realised, with more than a little emotion, (and perhaps helped by Radio 2s lovely country music playing in the background), that each small piece of 'mess' is attached to a glorious picture in my mind: The twinkle in Ruby's eye as she licked the yoghurt from my finger, the look of utter joy in George's face as he charged around in his new spiderman costume (couldn't resist - £10 in Tesco today!).  Exactly the type of things that I so wanted to use this diary blog for when I originally started it nearly 2 years ago.  With the loss of Harry it turned to be more of a therapy and now I kind of feel like it's come full circle.

I caught a glimpse of myself holding Ruby today as she was 'helping' me put the washing away. I.e too tired to be put down.  I had to stop and look again.  Am I really this lucky? Is this actuially my daughter? I'm still not sure it has actually sunk in and I am so ridiculously neurotic about her.  Maybe my anxiety will lessen when it completely sinks in that we finally got there, I really do have this gorgeous wonderous daughter who is actually mine. 

Looking at the remnants of our day in the kitchen around me helps me to realise that this is real. This is the life I have been praying for. I know how incredibly blessed I am and in lots of ways I have the tough times to thank for that.  So, I'm back to living the moment, trying to cling to every second. Tonight, I was rushing George a little with his tea as I knew Ruby was getting tired. sometimes it has to be done but where possible I try to rush nothing. Let moments unfold and enjoy each one. Life is no longer about my next period or next ovulation, I can still starkly remember that time which I think helps me all the more appreciate the beauty of the moment.

I've been photographing some friend's children for them and in the same way, I hope that helps others stay in the moments that are so quickly gone. Just got to keep on living, loving and laughing. Thank you, for whoever is looking down on me right now, thank you.

Thousands of photos to sort out but here are a couple from my phone this week and some pics that I have taken for friends lately.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Olympic Games

We have been lucky enough to have a hold of the torch, tour round the Olympic park in the sunshine, watch 2 basketball matches and experience Team GB wins at the rowing at Eton Dorney Lake.  Each event has been incredibly exciting and inspiring (brand new Asics trainers arrived this morning!). Most of all I think we are so lucky to be part of such an amazing event, organised so incredibly well and have our children be part of history.  I hope that George remembers some snippets of this special time as he grows up and I'm so happy that he will be able to tell his children that "I was there".  To see so many smiling faces in London and soak up the incredible atmosphere in the country right now is, I hope, enough to bring out patriotism in us all. Well done GB, I'm so proud to be British right now.

A very early start for the rowing

GO Team GB!!

A Team GBG win

Wenlock, George's favourite mascot and current sleeping buddy of choice!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Smiles and sleep

As those first beautiful smiles take place I find myself more and more in love with my gorgeous baby girl.  With her I feel such a sense of unknown as her personality begins to emerge into who knows.  With George I was so excited about the next stage whereas now I feel how precious and irreplaceable each moment is, knowing how quickly each stage passes, I have no desire to rush any of it.  If I could have one wish in my life, it would be to bottle and save all the special moments of my life to view and treasure. But this is not possible, and it saddens me to think how these small but remarkable moments of life are too so quickly fogged memories.

Life is beginning to settle down as Ruby becomes more contented and focus starts to move to 'sleeping through the night'.  We have now had one of two 'good' nights with Rubes as she has gone more than 3+ hours. Last night I stroked  and smelled her gorgeous soft downy hair and traced the outline of her perfect button nose and soft cheeks and watched with a sense of total love and completion as she suckled away contentedly. It was then that I remembered how dissapointed I was when those regular night time wakings stopped so early with George. I really really missed him in the night.

There must be many other mummies who also delight in the beauty and perfection of those nightime moments, while it feels like the rest of the world is sleeping, except me and my bundle of wonder.  To me there is something magical about feeding by the moonlight and being part of such a special love that is shared by no other.  Clearly I may feel differently in 6 or 12 months time but, for now, I'm happy to cherish my night time cuddles with my glorious baby girl. 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Ghost Meringues

George loves all things monsters, ghosts and ghoulies at the moment and we had fun making these 'ghost meringues'.  Amazing the recent change in george that he now has so much more concentration and precision for these activites ... even seperating egg yolks and whites. Idea was taken from George's Scooby Doo magazine!

Nudity a necessity for george right now

3 egg whites
150g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Black writing icing

1. Place egg whites and cream of tartar into a bowl
2. Whisk until fluffy
3. Add vanilla essence
4. Add sugar a little at a time and whisk again until soft peak stage
5. Spoon mixture into piping bag of food bag with corner cut off
6. Squeeze mixture into ghost shapes onto a greaseproof papered baking tray
7. Cook meringues at 150 degrees for 5-10 mins
8. Once cooled draw face with icing (or melted chocolate)